Metes and bounds is a system or method of describing land, real property (in contrast to personal property) or real estate. The system has been used in England for many centuries, and is still used there in the definition of general boundaries. By custom, it was applied in the original Thirteen Colonies that became the United States, and in many other land jurisdictions based on English common law.
Typically the system uses physical features of the local geography, along with directions and distances, to define and describe the boundaries of a parcel of land. The boundaries are described in a running prose style, working around the parcel in sequence, from a point of beginning, returning back to the same point. It may include references to other adjoining parcels (and their owners), and it, in turn, could also be referred to in later surveys. At the time the description is compiled, it may have been marked on the ground with permanent monuments placed where there were no suitable natural monuments.
The term "metes" refers to a boundary defined by the measurement of each straight run, specified by a distance between the terminal points, and an orientation or direction. A direction may be a simple compass bearing, or a precise orientation determined by accurate survey methods. The term "bounds" refers to a more general boundary description, such as along a certain watercourse, a stone wall, an adjoining public road way, or an existing building.
The system is often used to define larger pieces of property (e.g. farms), and political subdivisions (e.g. town boundaries) where precise definition is not required or would be far too expensive, or previously designated boundaries can be incorporated into the description.
To give you an example, I've gotten, from the Lt. Governor's website, this description of the current (until the new districts become final) Alaska House district 6, which is the largest electoral district in the United States.
House District 6 - Senate District C - Interior Villages
Download map for District 06
House District 6 is bounded by a line beginning at the intersection of the common boundary of the Bering Straits and Yukon Koyukuk Rural Education Attendance Areas (REAAs) and the Northwest Arctic Borough, north along the borough boundary to its intersection with the North Slope Borough, east along the borough boundary to its intersection with the Alaskan/Canadian border, south along the border to the City and Borough of Yakutat, west along the borough boundary to the Ahtna ANRC, west along the ANRC boundary to the Copper River, north along its western bank to Urantina River, north to its headwaters, north along a non visible line to the headwaters of Bernard Creek, north to a point east of the intersection of Bernard Creek Trail and an unnamed trail, north along the creek trail to the Richardson Highway, north to Squirrel Creek, west to Trans Alaska Pipeline (TAPs), east to its intersection with a road just south of Pippin Lake, east to Richardson Highway, north to 16APL-3 Road, west to TAPs, north to 19APL-1 Road, east to Richardson Highway, continuing east along a non visible line to the Copper River, north along its western bank to the Klutina River, east to the New Richardson Highway, north to the Old Richardson Highway, north to the southern boundary of Tazlina ANVSA, west along the ANVSA boundary to TAPs, north to the Tazlina River, east along its northern shore to a trail that connects with the intersection of Copperville Road and the Old Richardson Highway, north along the highway to the Glenn Highway, west to TAPs, north to its intersection with the Richardson High way (just west of Sourdough and Haggard Creeks), north to Paxson Lake Campground Road, east along a non visible line to TAPs, north to the Richardson Highway (just west of Fielding Lake), north to Fort Greely Military Reservation (just west of Butch Lake), north and east along the military boundary to the Richardson Highway (just north of TAPs Pump Station 9 Access Road), north along the highway to the City of Delta Junction, east and north along the city boundary to Nistler Road, east to Souhrada Road, nor th to Jack Warren Road, west to Fales Road, north to Clearwater Lake, west along the shore to an unnamed creek connecting to the Tanana River, east along its south bank to the mouth of Clearwater Creek, north across the Tanana River, continuing east along its northern bank to an intersection with the Volkmar River, north along a non visible line to Volkmar Lake, west around the lake to its northern most point, east along a non visible line to White Peak, north to the intersection of Goodpaster River and South Fork (Goodpaster River), east along the South Fork to Delta Greely REAA, north along the REAA boundary to Fairbanks North Star Borough, north, west and south around the borough to the Tanana River, west along its southern bank to the City of Nenana, south along the city boundary to FAA Way, south to a sled trail (paralleling George Parks Highway), south to Denali Borough, west and south along the borough boundary to its intersection with Matanuska-Susitna Borough, south along the borough boundary to its intersection with Kenai Peninsula Borough, east along the borough boundary to the midpoint of Cook Inlet, south along the midpoint to its intersection with House District 35, west along the district boundary to the mouth of Drift River, west along the river to Lake Clark National Park and Wilderness Area, west along the park/wilderness boundary to a point due east of Summit Lake, west to and around the lake's south shore to Tlikakila River, west to Lake and Peninsula Borough, north and west along the borough boundary to the common boundary of Calista and Bristol Bay ANRCs, west along the common boundary to its intersection with the common boundary of Lower Kuskokwim and Kuspuk REAAs, west along the common REAA boundary to the Kuskokwim River, north along its western bank to the City of Lower Kalskag, east along the city boundary to the City of Upper Kalskag, north and west around the city boundary to the Yukon Kuskokwim Portage Trail, north to its intersection with Bethel Census Area, west along the census area boundary to a point south of the headwaters of the Pitnik River, north along the river to a point just south of the Kashunuk River, north to the river, east to Driftwood Slough, east to the Yukon River, east along its southern bank to Atchuelinguk River, east along its northern bank to its headwaters, north along a non visible line to the Bering Straits ANRC, east and north to point of beginning.
The staff has had to write one of these for each of the 40 house districts.